Arthropod Diversity and Functional Importance in Old-Growth Forests of North America

Year: 
2017
Publications Type: 
Journal Article
Publication Number: 
5019
Citation: 

Schowalter, Timothy. 2017. Arthropod Diversity and Functional Importance in Old-Growth Forests of North America. Forests. 8(4/97): 1-17. doi: 10.3390/f8040097

Abstract: 

Old-growth forests have become rare in North America but provide habitat for unique assemblages of species that often are rare in younger forests. Insects and related arthropods reach their highest diversity in old-growth forests because of their stable moderate temperature and relative humidity and the rich variety of resources represented by high plant species richness and structural complexity. Old-growth arthropod assemblages typically are distinct from those in younger, managed forests. Major subcommunities include the arboreal community that is composed of a rich assemblage of herbivores, fungivores, and their associated predators and parasitoids that function to regulate primary production and nutrient fluxes, the stem zone community that includes bark- and wood-boring species and their associated predators and parasitoids that initiate the decomposition of coarse woody debris, and the forest floor community composed of a variety of detritivores, fungivores, burrowers, and their associated predators and parasitoids that are instrumental in litter decomposition. Insect outbreaks are relatively rare in old-growth forests, where the diversity of resources and predators limit population growth. In turn, insects contribute to plant diversity and limit primary production of host plant species, thereby promoting development of old-growth forest characteristics. Arthropods also provide important functions in decomposition and nutrient cycling that may be lost in younger, managed forests with limited provision of coarse woody debris and accumulated litter. Protection of remnant old-growth forests within the forest matrix may be particularly valuable for maintaining the diversity of plant and arthropod predators that can minimize outbreaks, thereby contributing to resilience to changing environmental conditions.
Keywords: insects; defoliators; bark beetles; wood borers; detritivores; predators; biocontrol; conservation; biodiversity